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Nasopharyngeal Cancer


The diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer is made through the following techniques:

  • Medical history and physical evaluation: The symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer overlap with some most common conditions, such as flu or ear infection, and thus are ignored by most patients. It may be one of the common causes of delayed diagnosis. If the patients experience any of the above symptoms, they should contact the oncologists to rule out the presence of cancer. The patient undergoes a comprehensive health examination to determine if underlying serious medical conditions cause the symptoms. The patients are enquired about the occurrence of symptoms, severity, progression, and the medications taken for managing the symptoms. This information assists in determining the course of disease management. Further, age, race, family history and gender are also considered during preliminary diagnosis, as nasopharyngeal cancer commonly occurs in patients between 30 to 50 years of age.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests cannot diagnose nasopharyngeal cancer. However, these tests provide valuable information about the functioning of vital organs. It may also suggest the presence of infection. Blood tests are routine in patients with nasopharyngeal cancer before initiating the treatment.
  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that allows oncologists to view the health of the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and larynx. The procedure is done with the help of an endoscope.
  • Ultrasound: Studies reported that ultrasound might be used to detect nasopharyngeal cancer with high sensitivity. Although ultrasound may be less accurate in detecting nasopharyngeal cancer compared to MRI, it may assist the results of MRI in determining the staging of the disease.
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging provides 3D images of tissues, bones, organs, and blood vessels by using strong magnets and radio waves. MRI helps in evaluating the soft tissue present in the head and neck. It is better compared to CT scans. MRI is also helpful in differentiating the abnormal mass, whether it is cancerous, non-cancerous, or just swelling due to inflammation.
  • CT scan: CT scan provides information about the shape, size, and location of the tumor. It also detects the swelling in the lymph nodes that might be due to cancer. In addition, CT scans are recommended for evaluating the growth in the base of the skull. It is a common place where nasopharyngeal cancer can grow.
  • PET Scan: PET scan is generally used to detect the spread of nasopharyngeal cancer to various body parts, such as organs and lymph nodes. It involves the use of radioactive derivatives of sugar, which are injected into the vessels. The cancer cells predominantly uptake the radioactive substance. The accumulation of radioactive material in the body is detected by scanning the body from head to toe. Areas with high accumulation, other than the primary site, indicate cancer metastasis.
  • Chest X-ray: Chest X-ray is usually recommended in patients suspected of having nasopharyngeal cancer and pulmonary symptoms. A chest X-ray is done to rule out the spread of cancer to the lungs and other organs of the thoracic cavity.
  • Biopsy: Biopsy is the procedure that involves obtaining a sample of the abnormal cells and examining them under the microscope for the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy may be done either at the time of endoscopy if there is any abnormal tissue detected. The biopsy may also be done through the fine needle aspiration technique, in which a thin needle collects the fluid or tissue sample from the lymph nodes or lumps.
  • EBV antibody test: Patients suspected of having nasopharyngeal cancer are recommended to undergo an EBV antibody test. EBV infection is generally found in patients with nasopharyngeal cancer. Further, it may be done before and after the treatment to determine the treatment response.

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